Francis Wasonga has been fighting off the drunkard tag for the last 13 years. This is because for 23 years, Francis was a slave to alcohol and drugs and their effects are well known to him. Today, Francis visits schools preaching against the vice with a hope that he can save the youth from the life he has led. He shares with HENRY KAHARA on how alcohol and drugs destroyed his life.
Francis Wasonga, 50, knows all too well what it means to be an addict and what addiction can do to one’s life. Francis can’t account for 23 years of his life, as it was lost in drugs and alcohol.
“I was born and raised up in South B, Nairobi, in a family of seven children. I schooled at Mariakani Primary School. I was a bright student and this made my father to love me more than my other siblings,” he reminisces on his childhood.
After sitting for his Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) in 1980, Francis was among the students who
had performed well in his school. He was admitted to Highway Secondary School. “The school was among best secondary schools in Nairobi at the time. What’s more, it was just some few metres away from our house. Most students in the institution were very bright so my performance wasn’t so good in my first term. My father was not happy with my report but I assured him that I would pull up my socks the following term,” he recalls.
However, his performance didn’t improve and while preparing to join form two, he approached one of his classmates for help. “There was a lot of pressure from my dad to perform and so I had to look for a way to improve my performance to make him happy,” he says.
Francis reported to school ready to start a new year with anticipation that his friend would help him get better grades. To his surprise, his friend, whom he refers to as Alex, took him under a big bamboo tree in the school compound and gave him some stuff to smoke with a promise that it would help him improve his academic performance.
“At first I was shocked and hesitant to try what I had come to know was bhang, but at the same time wanted to do well. Alex convinced me that a puff a day will make my mind more attentive,” says Francis who adds that his friend duly warned him that the stuff was illegal.
It wasn’t long before he became addicted and started smoking it like a pro.
Francis says he was always the first to arrive home after school because of the school’s proximity to his home but this changed when he started indulging in bhang and hanging out with the wrong people. “After school, we would go looking for drug peddlers who sold the stuff to us,” he says.
Although at one point his mother came to know that her son was into drugs, she chose to hide it from his father. “Women are very protective of their kids and sometimes it may take time before they accept that their children are doing the wrong things,” he says.
With time, Francis developed a craving for bhang such that he couldn’t function without it. He would sneak out of the school compound and walk to Mukuru slums to quench his ‘thirst’. His truancy often landed him in trouble with the school administration.
“By this time my father had come to know that I was into drugs and it reached a point, after trying very hard, that he was no longer bothered by my school performance. I remember at one point he even stopped paying my school fees,” he narrates.
By the time he was in form three, almost everyone knew he indulged in drugs. He even introduced some of his friends to the vice. “Those of us in the bhang-smoking group thought we were heroes because even the teachers stopped bothering much with us. Little did we know that we were lost beyond salvation,” he says regrettably.
While Francis stole money from his parents to buy drugs, some of his friends engaged in pick pocketing. “At other times we would steal textbooks in school and sell them at throwaway prices to hawkers,” he recalls.
He sat for his O-levels in 1984 and to his surprise and that of others got a division three, which he says was a miracle as no one expected him to even get a pass. His parents were happy with his performance and told him to look for a course of his choice. “I wanted a course that would help me get rich quickly and so I settled for accounts. I enrolled at a college in the city centre. I was happy that I didn’t have to hustle much to get money as I was getting pocket money from my parents,” he says.
He passed the accounting course and thereafter landed a job with Tana and Athi River Development Authority. “I wasted my first salary in drinking escapades. I even disappeared from the office for two weeks. When I came back, my boss was torn between sacking and suspending me. I was served with a warning letter when I promised to change,” he narrates.
Although his drinking habit wouldn’t go away, he changed a little bit and his colleagues advised him to go get prayed for by renowned evangelist Reinhard Bonnke who was visiting the country.
“I heeded the call. I was prayed for and actually got saved, which was a good thing because I met my first wife in church. But it wasn’t long before I went back to bhang and alcohol. This time round, I indulged in alcohol unabatedly,” he says.
He recalls the time he was almost sacked from his job but dragged his then pregnant wife to the office hoping his supervisor, who was a woman, would have mercy on him. “My boss pardoned me but not without a punishment. I was deployed upcountry, which was a demotion,” he says.
At his new station and far from his hawk-eyed supervisor, Francis got the perfect opportunity to cook the books and thereby embezzle the authority’s money. Nothing could save him when he was caught. “I was sacked after an audit revealed I had altered the figures. I was charged in court for fraud,” he notes.
The company sued him for embezzlement of public funds and a court case ensued. The case was later dropped for lack of sufficient evidence. He then turned to drinking even more to the point of forgetting his role as a father. His wife became the sole breadwinner of the family. At the time, he had three boys.
Unable to handle his insobriety and life in the city proving to be too difficult, his family retreated back to their Siaya home where he followed them later. People at home thought he had been bewitched for they had never seen someone drink so much alcohol. His wife later on died, leaving him with three kids to look after. The kids would run away from home to stay with their grandmother, as Francis was not able to look after them.
“At the time of her death, my wife was working with Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). I was given her pension but wasted it all in alcohol. By this time I had lost hope in life and all I wanted was to die,” narrates the father of five.
It is at this juncture that his parents took him for rehabilitation. It’s been 13 years since he walked into the rehabilitation centre and his path to recovery has been commendable, to say the least.
“Alcohol addiction is a disease and an addict can’t admit he is sick but other people usually see it but sometimes are unable to help. I was at first defiant because I did not want to be at the rehab and often refused to go for therapy sessions, but I slowly came to understand that it was out of love that my parents had brought me there. I started cooperating and my healing began,” he recalls.
Francis has mended his relationship with people he brushed shoulders with the wrong way and his life is now on the move. “I also got married again. My children with my first wife are doing well and I am happy they are very bright and focussed in life,” he notes.
He says that his campaign against alcohol and drug abuse targets high school students since that is where most people start their dalliance with drugs. He urges parents not to put undue pressure on their kids when it comes to academic performance as it can lead to drugs or other social problems.